Nike Go Back to the Future

February 19, 2014
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Above image: Marty McFly’s futuristic Nike High Tops ride the hoverboard in Back to the Future

I’m not sure if this qualifies as “Thinking outside of the box,” but this latest collaboration between Nike Shoes, the inventor Blake Bevin and Tinker Hatfield, a designer, is fascinating.  Any of you who’ve brought up three kids like me knows that a child’s capacity for repetition can turn the adult brain into a kind of discolored jello pudding. A case in point would be the movie, Back to the Future in versions I, II & 3, which, like, the Star Wars franchise, I may have seen a thousand-odd times. Who can forget Michael J. Fox’s time-traveling Delorean and the brilliantly cool hoverboard? Well, Bob Zemeckis’ sci-fi teen space opera also featured another, perhaps more practical design: Self-tying laces!

Say what, you say? Or just, hunh?

Now cast your minds back to 1989. In Back to the Future II, Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Brown travel to the future to prevent Marty’s future son from facing jail time. They ultimately succeed, but when they travel back to the present (1985), they find everything to be entirely different than the way they left it. The plot is the usual this and that I refuse to be a spoiler for, For our purposes, Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, tries on a pair of Nike High Tops which automatically tighten while simultaneously adjusting to fit his feet, by using so-called ‘power laces.’

Baja Board
The Baja Board in action

For some reason, the children of the eighties seem obsessed with that era. One of the most coveted pieces of futuristic tech seen in the Back To The Future franchise was the hoverboard, a skateboard-style device that could levitate. Inspired by this board, a group of Australian inventors designed The Baja Board, a four-wheel-drive motorized skateboard capable of reaching 31mph (50kmh). At the same time, a California-based company, Future Motion, created a self-balancing, one wheeled skateboard. Named the Onewheel, this US$1,300 gadget can reach speeds on 12mph, and turn 360 degrees within the length of the board.

But that’s just one. As with the eternal drawing power of the Michael Jordan/Nike Air Jordan franchise, from the eighties to right now, Nike has done all the relevant market research and know that forty-somethings on down to current teenagers own a massive sense of cultural and design attachment to the same stuff they always have. Whether it’s a remix of the Ramones’ I Wanna Be Sedated, or the 25th anniversary re-release of original Air Jordans, Nike know all the nostalgia angles. Their release of a limited range of McFly’s Nike MAGs with manual laces in 2011 was a big boffo hit that made Nike a small fortune. Now designer Tinker Hatfield has revealed that power laces for the MAGS will arrive in 2015 and be able to be instantaneously tighten and adjust to any customer’s feet.

“The automatic lacing system provides a set of straps that can be automatically opened and closed to switch between a loosened and tightened position on the upper,” Nike’s top designer Taylor Hatfield said, speaking in New Orleans at a Jordan Brand Flight Lab in New Orleans and reported in Nike’s own in-store magazine, Sole Collector, an article that details ‘an automatic ankle cinching system that is configured to automatically adjust an ankle portion of the upper.’ Further questioned about this in New Orleans Hatfield replied: “Are we gonna see power laces in 2015? To that, I say yes!”

Those space age Nike High Tops

Having applied for and received a patent in 2010, Nike released a range of Back To The Future-inspired High Tops in 2011. Only 1,500 models of the Nike MAG High Tops were made, and every pair was auctioned off on eBay. A total of US$6m was raised from the sales of these shoes, and all the proceeds went to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

Meanwhile, the San Francisco-based inventor, Blake Bevin, has already created her own self-tying laces, a prototype which she believes will ‘tide you over until Nike comes out with something more polished.”

Using an Arduino Microcontroller, Bevin fitted a sensor to a Nike High Top. When someone steps into the shoe, a force sensor reads the pressure of their foot and activates two servomotors, which apply tension to the laces, tightening the shoe appropriately. A touch switch can be used to reverse the servos. Sounds expensive, doesn’t it?

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